The Legal Beat
Is Going To Law School Now A Better Decision Compared To 10 Years Ago?
Posted on Wednesday January 16, 2019
Now being the new year, many aspiring attorneys are considering whether law school is right for them or which law school they should attend. In the past, I and other writers here have offered our opinions on the issue and we’ll likely continue to do so over the next few months. In the past, I have previously been very critical about attending law school on a whim. But today, I want to revisit and summarize the events of the last decade to determine whether circumstances have changed to the point where law school should be given a second chance.
If someone in January 2009 were to ask whether they should go to law school, most lawyers and especially recent law school graduates would respond with an emphatic no. Word was getting out that not all law school graduates were making six-figure salaries after graduation and some won’t make that kind of money for a long time, if ever. Even graduates from top schools had their Biglaw offers deferred or rescinded. Law firm layoffs were rampant. But the economy in general was doing bad at the time and potential law students thought that they can wait out the recession with the hopes that the job market would improve in 2012.
Over the next 10 years, a few notable events occurred that changed how potential law students selected their school and law schools’ recruitment practices.
More people, including lawyers, law students, and even some law professors came out to warn prospective students about the realities of the legal job market. In 2011, David Segal of the New York Times published Is Law School A Losing Game, which brought the discussion to the general public. In 2012, multiple law schools were sued where former students claimed that they were misled into attending due to the employment numbers they provided. While the lawsuits were ultimately dismissed, the judges in their opinions censured the defendant law schools for not being honest with their post-graduate employment numbers.
In response to the above, U.S. News and World Report demanded that law schools provide more detailed and accurate information about post-graduate job placements for ranking purposes. Those schools that did not comply or finessed the numbers risked being punished by being placed in the unranked tier, although sometimes unfairly.
The ABA also demanded similarly detailed information which ultimately became the Section 509 disclosures.
As more potential law students knew the truth, some chose not to attend. Others would attend only if they were offered substantial tuition discounts. As a result, many law schools’ tuition revenue fell, and to offset this, they recruited and admitted students with lower LSAT and GPA numbers. Also, more law schools are now accepting GRE scores in lieu of the LSAT with the hopes that this will increase their applicant base.
A few law schools were unable to operate in the new normal and have closed. Some shut down honorably and in an organized fashion. Others chose to keep their doors open until the very last minute fighting for every last student loan dollar while being subjected to government inquiries and lawsuits from their students.
Some years later, bar passage rates fell nationwide with many stating that this is the result when law schools admit people with lower academic credentials. Regardless, the ABA is pushing to require schools to have a 75 percent bar passage rate or risk losing accreditation. While some are resorting to lobbying for lower bar exam pass scores, law schools are starting to become more selective about admitting students who are likely to pass the bar exam and obtain a meaningful job after graduation.
Potential law students must continue to do their due diligence and be aggressive about minimizing their student loan debt after graduation. Many recommend choosing a school based on the specialty they want to pursue and the region they want to practice in — and going to law school for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.
Also, and this cannot be stressed enough: always ask for a tuition discount. The worst that can happen is that your request will be denied. Be in a position to negotiate. If you have been accepted to multiple law schools, you may have some leverage by threatening to go to another school. If your GPA/LSAT score is higher than their average applicant, that may get you a merit scholarship. To make a long story short, you will not get a higher law school GPA for paying full sticker price.
Over the last 10 years, the public has become more informed about the risks and benefits of going to law school. With the help more detailed information from the U.S. News law school rankings and the ABA’s Section 509 Disclosures which go back for the last eight years, potential law students are now able to make a more informed decision on whether to attend. Not only that, most law schools are starting to improve their admissions standards which will hopefully translate into higher bar passage rates and an acceptable post-graduate employment rate for their students. So now with better information, stricter admissions policies, and a good economy (which will hopefully last another three years), law school may be a viable career option for some provided they attend the right one for them with minimal debt after graduation.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolve tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people with large student loans. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.